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Karmapa: Buddhist leader's arrival a 'most wonderful thing'

May 22, 2008

Cheers echo in Woodstock shrine
By Deborah Medenbach
The Times Herald-Record (NY)
May 20, 2008 10:10 AM

WOODSTOCK, NY - The head of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, arrived yesterday afternoon for a historic first visit to his North American seat of power, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastery on Meads Mountain Road. He was greeted by monks and 300 invited devotees for a private welcome and blessing ceremony.

The 22-year-old leader fled Tibet in 1999, hiking over a Himalayan mountain pass with a handful of monks to take refuge in India, where he was met by the Dalai Lama and was at last able to receive training for his future leadership role as head of one of four Tibetan Buddhist sects.

After years of negotiations with the Indian government, the Karmapa received an international travel visa earlier this year. He arrived in New York City on Thursday.

He came to Woodstock under tight security and with a State Department escort. His visit, through Saturday, is a private event and considered a homecoming of sorts. The monastery was designed by the 16th Karmapa with the 17th Karmapa in mind.

"This is the most wonderful thing, that he has the freedom to be here," said Stirling Davenport of Poughkeepsie. "I saw him in Tsurphu (Tibet) just two months before he escaped. He's so very special."

A colorful procession with banners, horns and drums led the young Karmapa into the grounds of the monastery and finally into the main shrine room, where loud cheers and claps echoed as he took his seat on a platform before the shrine. A huge golden Buddha filled with millions of prayer scrolls loomed behind the young monk as he rocked gently from side to side, listening to the chants. Small statues and scrolls were brought for his blessing and he took each and held it momentarily to his forehead before returning it to the monks.

Through a translator, the Karmapa apologized to his devotees for their long wait for his arrival. The sect has had a presence in the Woodstock area since 1973. He assured his followers that he was here with them now and always.

The Karmapa's two-week visit continues with public sessions in Colorado and Washington state. He intends to spend a couple of months each year in the United States.

"It's the closing of a circle that was left open when the 16th Karmapa passed away" in 1981, devotee Tom Melcher of Vermont said. Melcher has supported the Woodstock monastery for more than 30 years. "It's the closing of a circle and the opening of a gate."
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